How To Survive A Trip To Hockeytown
BY GABRIEL D.
For the last twelve years, I've lived behind enemy lines in Detroit.
I've witnessed two Stanley Cup parades. I've also endured endless mockery, heated debates and even a few people offering up a sympathetic, "Oh, I'm sorry" after learning my true identity as a Leafs fan.
I was inside the Joe for a 6-2 trouncing – the Leafs getting trounced – in 2002 when a guy named Corey Schwab stood in for Cujo. On another occasion, I was threatened as I walked across a bridge linking the two sides of Jefferson Avenue at 11:30 p.m. while wearing my Leaf jersey (after yet another 3-2 Leafs loss).
My desks at school and work have been plastered with Red Wing paraphernalia more than once.
While all of this may not qualify me as a Red Wings expert, I believe my first-hand experiences with Detroit can shed some light and help those planning to cross the border for tonight's big game.
Here now, some tips for Leaf fans:
1. Do Not Wander Around After Dark
Several years ago, I was waiting at a gas station in southwest Detroit to pick up my cousin who was coming across the border from Kitchener around midnight. As I stood there, a young woman who looked like she had just stepped out of a 50 Cent video appeared.
Suddenly and without warning, she pinched and twisted my nipples.
Detroit is a very special city but only 50 per cent of downtown is actually safe for sightseeing without an armed guard. After dark, this number drops to about 5 per cent – less if it’s obvious you are in town to cheer for a visiting sports team.
So if the Leafs win tonight, I suggest making a beeline directly from the Joe to Windsor. Pinched nipples is the least of what goes on here.
2. Drive Fast
If you must use a freeway in Detroit, keep something in mind: The posted speed limits are more like suggestions and the signs are strictly ornamental. If you're not exceeding the posted limit, you will probably get rear-ended.
Do you really want to be standing on the shoulder in your Leaf jersey, exchanging license and insurance information with an irate Wing fan? No, you do not.
Michigan is one of the only states to impose no weight limits on road vehicles. As a result, the only real deterrent to speeding is potholes.
During one of the parades I mentioned, my buddies jumped into a random limo that was driving down Woodward Avenue and got a free ride all the way to Hart Plaza. I ran alongside, trying to squeeze in through the window while hoping to not disappear into an asphalt crater.
3. Leave Plenty of Time For Parking
Parking at Joe Louis kind of, well, it kind of SUCKS BIG TIME! There are several parking lots/structures but every single one requires a long, meandering foot journey to reach the arena.
And exiting these structures after a game is an event in itself. If you're back on the freeway by 1 a.m., consider yourself incredibly lucky.
Out-of-town visitors often choose to park at Hockeytown Café, which offers a shuttle that transports ticket holders to the Joe. But as a Leaf fan, this ride could be more harrowing than finding a parking spot in the first place.
There's an excellent chance several Wing fans on the shuttle will already be intoxicated. If so, there's also an excellent chance they will notice your blue-and-white clothing.
You know those nature documentaries in which a zebra is brought down and devoured by a pack of hungry hyenas? You will be that zebra.
4. Avoid public restrooms
While the Joe is an arena rich with history, the physical facility is something that makes even die-hard Wing fans cringe. The concourse is crowded. Weird smells are not uncommon. Eyes can quickly get irritated.
Also, beware the flying octopi. Though most Wing fans don't remember where this tradition started, those creatures don't only come out in the playoffs and they aren't limited to the ice surface.
Oh, and try to avoid the bathrooms.
If this is impossible, guys, expect to find one communal trough instead of individual urinals. You may also run into Cam Neely's character (Sea Bass) from Dumb and Dumber.
5. Smuggle in your own food
Although I've never tasted one myself, people spend a lot of time talking about the hot dogs at the Joe. Are they delicious? Expensive? Worth the wait?
These are good questions. One thing to avoid asking, though, is how long have they been sitting and marinating on those creaky rollers?
6. Calibrate your hockey conversation expectations
Before chatting up a Wing fan, ask them to name at least five players on the current roster. You'll be surprised at how many "fans" can't complete this simple task.
If they stammer, just walk away and don't even bother.
The most likely scenario is you have just encountered a "Spring Wing" – a Detroit inhabitant who mysteriously morphs into a hockey fan between March and April. Also, check for swollen ankles; jumping on and off the red bandwagon often leaves physical marks.
7. Trash talk with facts
When a Red Wing fan says Toronto "hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1867" – yes, to some locals the Leafs' last championship coincided with Canada's independence – and the "Wings have four Cups in a span of 11 years," respond with math.
The number 13 is still greater than the number 11. In 100 years, nobody is going to pay any special attention to who won the most championships between, say, 1997 and 2008.
When they come back to you after Googling "leafs+Stanley+Cups" and claim Toronto only has 11 championships, not 13, gently remind them of something: there used to be two hockey teams named the Toronto St. Pats and the Toronto Arenas.
If all else fails, change the subject and bring up the Lions. Then get ready to run.
8. Bring a Safe Disguise
Wearing your Leaf gear during the game is fine. There is security. The game is televised. Nobody will try anything.
But once the final buzzer sounds, change out of your jersey. Remove your cap. Try not to stand out. The rest of your stay in Detroit is just getting starting and you don't want to take any chances.
Gabriel D. (aka gettingcozywithsarkozy) formed a deep bond with the blue-and-white in 1993. Wayne Gretzky and the Kings had just eliminated the Leafs from the playoffs. As Gabriel walked under a dreary sky, he heard taunts and looked around to see others pointing and laughing. At this precise moment, a special connection was forged with the emblem on the Toronto Maple Leafs lunchbox he was carrying. He was in Grade 2.
MAIN PHOTO: PAUL SANCYA/ASSOCIATED PRESS